The Guerrilla Girls: Taking Denison By Surprise

The Guerrilla Girls: Taking Denison By Surprise

Fighting inequality through art, anonymity and wit.
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"We could become much more sane, much healthier as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absolutely easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions." - Bob Herbert, The New York Times.

Located in the quiet lower level of the Doane Performing Arts Building is the Denison University Museum. This quote hangs heavily from a tarp-like poster on the wall. As I explore the exhibit, I'm greeted by brightly painted walls and vibrant posters. Some contain bold and electric lettering, others have expertly edited photos. All contain shocking, infuriating, or overwhelming statistics or satire. This, I'm told then, is the trademark of the Guerrilla Girls.

I found myself here through my Issues In Feminism class. Conveniently, just as our class was beginning to examine gender roles and the social construction thereof, the Guerrilla Girls exhibition opened its doors on our campus. I never expected to be so drawn in by a single exhibit on my own campus.

The Guerrilla Girls describe themselves as "feminist activist artists." They are an anonymous collective of women who wear gorilla masks in public and create popular culture works that are displayed anywhere from billboards to galleries. The group has been functioning since 1985, and still create new pieces and update old ones regularly. They've consisted of 55 members over the years. Some have stayed throughout the whole movement, whereas others have come and gone. Usually their pieces are geared towards addressing the inequality in the art world, however they also call attention to political turmoil, racial divides and other general feminist issues. As a group they're proud to have members of all backgrounds.

As I turn the corner in the Denison exhibit, I'm greeted directly by a piece covering the whole wall. It reads "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?"

Below the title, made bold by the choice of color, are the kind of statistics I mentioned before. This particular piece was originally premiered in 1989. The Guerrilla Girls' most recent update of the statistics, done in 2012, lists the new percentages at 4 percent and 76 percent respectively.

There was one piece in particular that stuck with me, and it is also the piece which I quoted to begin this article. On the wall adjacent to the Met. Museum piece was this work, entitled "Disturbing the Peace."

It's a collection of various quotes spanning numerous genres like music, popular culture and society. Each is, in its own right, shocking and almost hard to read.

I felt this piece truly earned its name. Before exploring this exhibit, I had never even imaged that Frank Sinatra, a musical figurehead whose talent will influence generations of musicians to come, would ever say something like, "a well balanced girl is the one who has an empty head and a full sweater." I took every moment I could to read and reread each quotation, feeling a small flame igniting somewhere in my soul.

It is this kind of active awareness that I wish to share with others. I'm nearly positive that each and every one of my readers, family members, and friends hears something weekly about the inhumane treatment of other humans. It is up to our discretion, and our morals, if we choose to act on the lack of humanity or save up our strength for the next atrocity.

The best way to involve yourself in the world is to meet its negativity face to face, and the best way to do that is through communication with others. Each person, each group, and each society has their own unique stories to share, but we cannot hear them if we choose not to listen.

At Denison, particularly, we're gifted with opportunity after opportunity to meet, communicate, and exchange stories with people who are different than us. It is of immense importance that we, the young people on this campus, seize each and every one we can.

The Denison Museum is holding the Guerrilla Girls exhibition from September 25, 2017 until December 15, 2017. It's open Monday through Friday from 12pm to 5pm. The museum is free and open to the public. Stop by to see the above pictured works, and many more, in person. You'll be better off for it, I promise.


Cover Image Credit: Eric Huybrechts

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Portland, Oregon

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